At the time of writing, I’m well into six months living in Japan, and about to hit the seven month mark, which marks the start of my countdown to finishing up my year on exchange and leaving Japan instead of eagerly anticipating all the time that I have stretching in front of me as I begin to explore this little corner of the world.
And to compare, I was rereading all the posts that I had posted prior to, and at the start of my exchange. There were so many feelings and details that I had forgotten about, thoughts that I deemed important enough to put down, but quickly erased by all the new experiences that I have gained in the time since then.
For one, I didn’t expect how intense the friendships I’ve made here would be in comparison to all the friendships that I’ve made so far in my life. Maybe it’s the way my exchange program here at Kyudai is structured, with one semester in the JTW exchange program and the following as a normal Kyudai student, maybe I was blessed with the right people, but I have never felt as down and as upset as when all my friends finished up their year here and went home. I didn’t cry leaving my friends and family in Sydney, but I was ugly-crying for at least one airport send-off, and I remember tearing up for many more, disregarding the times when I would start crying in the prior weeks at the prospect of everyone leaving me.
I want to cry now, thinking about all the times when everyone was together, and it’s been three months since everyone left.
I think it was the fact that they had become my family here, they who welcomed me so openly, they who took me places and included me in their jokes, they who introduced their non-JTW friends to me because they cared and wanted me to have friends after they left, and we all knew that it would nearly be impossible for all of us to be in the same place at the same time ever again.
And I think that so far, this has been the hardest part of my exchange experience. I talk to some regularly, and I got to meet some of them again during summer break as I traveled around East Asia, but I miss them.
Another thing that I didn’t expect was just how seclusive Japanese society can be. I knew beforehand that they didn’t really associate with foreigners unless you actively approach you, but it’s so hard to really get to know a Japanese person properly. I don’t consider myself a shy person, and I certainly didn’t hold myself back talking to Japanese strangers at club activities or whatever, but even so, the fact that I couldn’t speak fluently to them already stopped them from trying to speak to me. Our conversations mostly went like this:
“Hi, I’m blahblah, a 1st/2nd/3rd/4th year of blahblah faculty.”
“Hi, I’m Joyce, an exchange student from Australia.”
“Oh that’s cool! How is Japan?”
And I’ll give a slightly stilting answer about Japan, and they’ll laugh politely, and then as a friend passes them, turn towards their friend and strike up a conversation, leaving me to stand awkwardly behind them as I try to follow their very fast speech. It’s gotten better, now that I’ve become better at speaking, but even for Japanese people, there’s this certain procedure to follow if you want to integrate into a pre-existing group, and I’ll elaborate on this in a later post.
On to something more uplifting, I have had the opportunity to travel a lot during the last six months, and I’m so thankful that I could, because I’ve seen so much more in the last half year than I have so far in my life prior to Japan. And the more I travel, the more I believe that traveling will not just give you a broader perspective of the world, but give you a deeper understanding of yourself, and how you interact with the world around you. I’ll be aiming to see more of Japan in the next few months before going back to Australia, so expect to see many many many travel posts happening as I slowly catch up on the last six months WHILST continuing all my adventure times.
And then… home time.
I wonder, will it feel like a return to Sydney? Or will it feel like a departure from Fukuoka?